WILLIAMSTOWN — The Mount Greylock Regional School District’s school board saw a stabilizing force in Pittsfield Public Schools Superintendent Jason McCandless, but his impending departure for Williamstown and Lanesborough only adds layers of uncertainty to Pittsfield's plans for the fall.
And among the unanswered questions after McCandless accepted the job of superintendent of the Mount Greylock district on Friday, pending contract negotiations, is just how long he will remain in Pittsfield before making the switch.
Under McCandless’ current contract, he is required to give 90 days' notice before leaving his position, meaning that he could be required to stay in Pittsfield for about three more months after he submits his resignation, which would see the district through the first couple of months of a fall semester unlike any other before it.
While Pittsfield School Committee members reached Friday generally didn’t want to discuss whether they would be sticklers about the 90-day clause, long-serving member Daniel Elias called that clause a “safety net” for students and the district, one that prevents the district from losing a leader without a transition plan.
In McCandless' words, the timing of it all “really feels abysmal in some ways.” But, he said he is eager to get going in his new position.
“I would love the opportunity, should it be given, to start the next chapter as soon as possible, but I also understand these are completely unprecedented times,” he told The Eagle. If the Pittsfield School Committee’s “desire is that I fulfill those terms of my contract, I will certainly do so.”
McCandless said he was eager to spend the final years of his career at a smaller district — Mount Greylock has just three schools, to Pittsfield’s 12 — where he could get to know each and every student and family.
“I’m approaching the point in my career where that seems like what I want to do,” McCandless said.
Pittsfield Public Schools, and districts statewide, face one of the most challenging times in their history as the countdown nears to delivering instruction to children under the threat of COVID-19.
Last fall, McCandless pursued several new job opportunities but ultimately decided to stay put in Pittsfield, saying Friday that his family decided at the time that the Berkshires was home.
In accepting the Mount Greylock job, McCandless has a chance to transition to a new environment without uprooting his family, including his youngest child, who is a rising senior at Pittsfield High School, he said.
“We, as a family, decided that the Berkshires was really home, and that Pittsfield was really home, and this opportunity came up; it’s an amazing school district,” McCandless said. “I really feel like it's the right thing for me.”
The prospect of McCandless’ migration to Mount Greylock thrilled the regional district's School Committee, whose district lost several key leaders around the time of the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
Then, Superintendent Kimberley Grady left on “extended” medical leave, kicking off a frenzied push to install Robert Putnam in the position on an interim basis while the district worked with the Massachusetts Association of School Committees to find a permanent schools chief.
Members of the Mount Greylock School Committee voted 6-0 in favor of appointing McCandless, with Regina Dilego abstaining, citing the fact that she inexplicably did not take part in interviews with three candidates.
All members of the Mount Greylock School Committee, except for Williamstown’s Alison Carter, named McCandless as their top choice of the three finalists.
School board secretary James Art, of Williamstown, called McCandless’ recommendations “almost unbelievably strong.”
Al Terranova, of Lanesborough, was similarly impressed, saying McCandless was recommended by Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer, Pittsfield Police Chief Michael Wynn, and he also picked up a nod from Barrington Stage Company.
“That’s telling me not only is he talking about working with these people, he’s working them well enough for them to say, 'You know, I would be willing to give you a recommendation.’ To me, that says he walks the walk,” Terranova said.
It was a hard day for Pittsfield, Elias said. Pittsfield School Committee member Mark Brazeau said he watched the Mount Greylock meeting Friday live, and was thinking to himself, “We’re going to lose a good person.”
Still, Brazeau said he was not panicking about McCandless’ pending departure.
“Jake has built a very strong team beneath him. There's a very, very well-run team, and I know we can definitely kick things off in the fall,” Brazeau said.
McCandless said four administrators in the central office, as well as some principals, hold the state credential needed to serve as superintendent in Pittsfield Public Schools.
Pittsfield School Committee Chairwoman Katherine Yon said McCandless, superintendent here since 2013, had a tough job, one that can only be done for so long, as it “takes a toll on you emotionally and physically.”
“It has been emotional. I've worked so closely with Dr. McCandless over the years that I will certainly miss his wisdom and leadership," she said. "Greylock has certainly made the correct choice."
Amanda Burke can be reached at email@example.com and at 607-351-9502.